The Georgian far-right hate group, Alt Info, has begun collecting money to cover a ₾233,000 ($87,000) fine, purportedly imposed in 2022, after the Justice Ministry demanded payment within seven days.
In a document purportedly from the Ministry of Justice’s National Enforcement Bureau released by Alt Info on Monday, the ministry appeared to have demanded that payment be made.
The document, addressed to Alt Info’s political wing, the Conservative Movement, and dated 25 January, stated that the fine had been imposed on administrative charges. It noted that payment was due for a ₾217,000 ($81,000) fine and an additional ₾15,000 ($5,600) ‘enforcement fee’.
While requesting that people donate to Alt Info, a host on the group’s TV channel said that if they failed to pay ‘the accounts of the conservative movement will be seized, and property will be confiscated’.
While the government has not commented on the fine and did not respond to questions from OC Media, Alt Info said it concerned a fine imposed by the State Audit Service in 2022.
The State Audit Office had accused Alt-Info’s Conservative Movement of misfiling its 2021 tax returns and concealing non-monetary donations. They said the party had incorrectly reported no financial turnover in the month of December.
‘However, as you remember, they opened most of the offices in December’, the audit service told local media at the time.
The Audit Office found undeclared expenses by the party of ₾72,000 ($27,000), and in June 2022, a court ordered the party to pay triple that sum.
Konstantine Morgoshia, one of the leaders of Alt Info, said at the time that they planned to appeal the fine but would have no difficulty paying it if necessary. ‘We have donors, and it will not be difficult for us to function, nor will we have a problem with this fine’.
Growing tensions between the government and Alt Info
The demand for payment came as tensions between Alt Info and the government appeared to be on the rise.
On Monday, Shota Martinenko, another leading member of Alt Info, complained that his account had been closed the same day the group received a demand for payment from the Justice Ministry. His account was at Cartu Bank, which was founded by Georgian Dream party founder Bidzina Ivanishvili. Martinenko said the account was used ‘among other things’ to collect money for Alt Info.
Martinenko went on to accuse the government and Ivanishvili of betraying Alt Info to the West.
‘It seems that [Bidzina Ivanishvili] entered into a deal with the West so that in exchange for not having his personal property sanctioned, he will be ready to pursue a radical, rigid Western policy’, he said.
He said this was being done because of the requirements from the EU for Georgia to progress its membership application.
‘It was a direct request from the West, from the nine recommendations of European integration, candidate status […] that we be neutralised, our television, our party, the leaders of our party should be arrested’, he said.
One of the EU’s requirements was for those responsible for attacking journalists to be held accountable, a reference to the attacks by Alt Info on 5 July 2021 during which over 50 media workers were injured. None of the organisers of the attacks were prosecuted.
The government has in previous years taken a soft stance on protests and violent actions by Alt Info, allowing the group to storm and destroy a Pride Festival on private land earlier in 2023.
However, several protests by the group in January saw a heavy police presence, leading several of Alt Info’s leaders to decry what they said was a betrayal.